“BOARDWALK EMPIRE”: Top Five Favorite Season Four (2013) Episodes

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Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season Four (2013) of HBO’s “BOARDWALK EMPIRE”:

 

“BOARDWALK EMPIRE”: TOP FIVE FAVORITE SEASON FOUR (2013) EPISODES

1 - 4.12 Farewell Daddy Blues

1. (4.12) “Farewell Daddy Blues” – In this explosive season finale, Eli Thompson’s reluctant attempt to betray Nucky to the FBI conclude unexpectedly; and the final confrontation between Chalky White and usurper Dr. Valentin Narcisse result in a double tragedy.

2 - 4.10 White Horse Pike

2. (4.10) “White Horse Pike” – Nucky’s new lady love, Sally Wheat, discovers that heroin being slipped into their bootleg shipments by Charlie Luciano and MeyerLansky at Masseria’s behest. Chalky fails to kill Narcisse and finds himself on the run with his singer/mistress Daughter Maitland.

3 - 4.05 Erlkönig

3. (4.05) “Erlkönig” – FBI Agent Warren Knox arrests valet Eddie Kessler and coerces him into betraying Nucky . . . with tragic consequences. Eli’s oldest son, Willie, contacts Nucky following his arrest for murder; and Al Capone loses his brother Frank during a violent street confrontation with Chicago law agents.

4 - 4.01 New York Sour

4. (4.01) “New York Sour” – Chalky’s lieutenant Durnsley White encounters trouble with a booking-agent and his wife; heroin addict Gillian Darmody tries to regain custody of her grandson Tommy; and Nucky makes peace with Arnold Rothstein and Joe Masseria.

5 - 4.11 Havre De Grace

5. (4.11) “Havre De Grace” – Chalky and Daughter seeks refuge at the Maryland home of his mentor, Oscar Boneau. Agent Knox pressures Eli to convince Nucky into setting up a meeting between the East Coast crime bosses for a major arrest.

“INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE” (1989) Review

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“INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE” (1989) Review

After a mixed reaction to the darker tones of 1984’s “INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM”, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg decided to compensate by ending what was then planned their Indiana Jones trilogy with a movie lighter in tone. The result of this decision is the 1989 movie, “INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE”.

The movie began with a prologue set in 1912 with a 13 year-old Indiana Jones riding with his Boy Scout troop in Utah. He stumbles across some robbers in a cave finding an ornamental cross that once belonged to Spanish explorer Coronado. Indy manages to steal the cross from the robbers and make it back to town to report the crime. His father, Henry Jones Sr. is oblivious to what his happening, due to his obsessive research on the Holy Grail. And Indy is forced to give up the cross to a mysterious man for whom the robbers worked for. Twenty-six years later, Indy finally gets his hands on the cross from the mysterious man, off the coast of Portugal.

“INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE” proved to be the only film in the franchise in which its prologue had little to do with the movie’s main narrative, aside from a brief peek into Henry Sr.’s obsession with the Holy Grail. Still in 1938, Indiana is contacted by an American businessman named Walter Donovan, who also happens to be a collector of antiquities. He informs Indy that Henry Sr. had vanished in Venice, Italy while searching for the Holy Grail on his behalf. Indy also receives a package in the mail that contains his father’s “Grail Diary” – a notebook featuring the latter’s research on the artifact. Realizing that Henry Sr. is in trouble, Indy and his mentor, Marcus Brody, travel to Venice and with the assistance of Dr. Elsa Schneider, Henry’s Austrian-born assistance, search for the missing archaeologist. During their adventures, the trio discover that Henry’s disappearance is either tied to a Christian secret society called the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword or the Nazis.

From the time I first saw “INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE”, I enjoyed it very much. Actually, I can say the same for just about every INDIANA JONES movie I have seen, save one. It really is a fun movie and I suspect this is a result of Lucas and Spielberg’s decision to make its tone lighter than either “TEMPLE OF DOOM” and 1981’s “RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK”. Just like in the previous movies, “THE LAST CRUSADE” saw Indiana Jones on a globe-trekking adventure to acquire a famous artifact on behalf of someone. In this case, he seemed to be working on behalf of both Walter Donovan and especially his father, Henry Jones Sr. But there was one aspect of this movie that made this movie particularly enjoyable was the casting. Lucas and Spielberg, along with screenwriters Jeffrey Boam and Tom Stoppard (uncredited), decided to make this movie a family affair by including Indy’s dad into the story. They also broadened the role of Indy’s mentor (and Henry Sr.’s college chum), Marcus Brody, who was featured in probably the movie’s funniest scene. And this is the only INDIANA JONES film and the second one for Lucas that featured a villainous leading lady. In fact, I suspect that Lucas was inspired by the Princess Sorsha character in 1988’s “WILLOW”, who started out as a villain and ended up as a sympathetic character. With Dr. Elsa Schneider, Lucas and Spielberg had a leading lady who started out as a heroine, slipped into villainess mode and ended up as a very ambiguous anti-heroine. I am not claiming that Elsa was the best of the movie franchise’s leading ladies, but she was certainly interesting.

The movie also featured some first-rate action sequences. My favorite included Indiana and Elsa’s conflict with the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword in Venice, Indy and Henry Sr.’s hasty departure from a Zeppelin that was returning to Germany and especially their escape from the German Army controlled Brunwald Castle on the Austrian-German border. The extended action sequence featuring Indiana’s clash with Colonel Ernst Vogel aboard a tank in the fictional Hatay desert ended with one of the movie’s best scenes – namely the tank falling over a cliff along with Indy and Vogel. This particular sequence must have been so successful that I suspect producer-director Peter Jackson more or less used it in one important scene in 2003’s “LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING”. But the movie was not sustained by interesting characterizations and action sequences alone. The main narrative for “INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE” – the search for the Holy Grail and belief in its existence and power – not only set in motion a series of adventures for the main characters, but also served as a backdrop for Indiana’s complicated relationships with both Elsa Schneider and especially, Henry Sr. In fact, one of my favorite scenes in the entire movie featured a brief conversation between Indy and Henry Sr. aboard the Zeppelin in which the former pointed out that the latter’s obsession with the Holy Grail and inability to communicate led to a twenty-two year estrangement between father and son.

But as much as I enjoyed “INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE”, it is probably my least favorite in the franchise. Aside from the leading lady’s characterization, the movie strikes me as the least original of the four movies. The other three movies offered something truly original to the franhcise – especially in regard to narratives. I cannot say the same about “THE LAST CRUSADE”. Despite its unusual addition of the Elsa Schneider and Henry Jones Sr. characters, it was more or less a rehash of “RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK”, which included a search for a Judeo-Christian artifact, Nazis, a Middle Eastern setting, the return of both Marcus Brody and Sallah Mohammed Faisel el-Kahir (Sallah), and a non-German collaborator of the Nazis who seemed more interested in the artifact than ideology.

Also, I was not that impressed by the 1912 Utah prologue for the movie. I did not find it particularly interesting, even though I am thankful that it served as a forerunner to “THE YOUNG INDIANA JONES CHRONICLES” television series from the early 1990s. And as much as I enjoyed the relationship between Indy and Elsa, there was one scene between them that I found unappealing. It concerned Indy’s efforts to retrieve his father’s “Grail Diary” from the Austrian art historian in Berlin. The retrieval led to an angst-filled quarrel that struck me as rather false. I got the impression that Lucas and Spielberg were trying to capitalize on the emotional relationship between the James Bond and Kara Milovy characters in the 1987 Bond movie “THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS”. The problems were that I never got the feeling that Indy and Elsa were that emotionally involved for such angsty fight, and Harrison Ford and Alison Doody never really sold it for me . . . at least in that particular scene. Like the other three movies in the franchise, “THE LAST CRUSADE” suffered from some heavy-handed action sequences. This was especially apparent in the Hatay desert sequence featuring the Nazi tank. And could someone please explain how that Zeppelin traveled from Berlin to Southeastern Europe so fast? It was in the latter region where Indy and Henry Sr. encountered the German fighter planes sent to kill them. Also, “THE LAST CRUSADE” suffered from a fault that also marred both “RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK” and 2008’s “INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULLS”. In the film’s final confrontation scenes, Indy played no role in the main villain’s downfall. Like in the 1981 and 2008 films, he mainly stood around with this thumb up his ass while someone else . . . or a supernatural entity dealt with the main villain. And like in the other two movies, I found this anti-climatic and rather disappointing.

But I was certainly not disappointed with the cast. They proved to be first-rate . . . not surprisingly. Harrison Ford returned as the intrepid archaeologist Indiana Jones and was superb and more relaxed in the role. Okay, I did criticize his acting in that Berlin scene with Alison Doody, but it was only one blot in an otherwise excellent performance. Dr. Henry Jones Sr. has to be my favorite Sean Connery role of all time. I adored him as Indy’s priggish and high-minded father who finds working in the field a new experience. And he also got to speak one of my favorite lines in the entire film, while repelling a German fighter plane in Eastern Europe. In fact, it is my favorite Connery quote of all time. Alison Doody was at least 21 or 22 years old when “THE LAST CRUSADE” went into production. She only had at least 2 to 3 years of acting experience. And yet, I was more than impressed by her portrayal of the amoral Austrian art historian Dr. Elsa Schneider. Doody had once complained that dealing with the Austrian accent was difficult for her. I would think dealing with Elsa’s complex nature would be more difficult. And I believe that despite her limited experience at the time, she did a pretty damn good job in portraying the very ambiguous Elsa – aside from that Berlin scene with Ford.

Julian Glover gave a smooth performance as Walter Donovan, the American businessman for whom the Jones family sought out the Holy Grail. His Donovan also proved to be just as complex, thanks to his skillful performance. Both John Rhys-Davies and Denholm Elliot reprised their roles as Sallah and Dr. Marcus Brody. And both were not only entertaining, but also gave first-rate performances. I especially enjoyed Elliot’s display of humor in a scene featuring Marcus’ arrival in Turkey. Michael Byrne’s portrayal of S.S. Colonel Ernst Vogel struck me as both subtle and intimidating. Back in 1980, Kevork Malikyan first tried out for the role of Sallah for “RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK”, but the role went to Rhys-Davies. But Spielberg remembered him and hired the actor to portray Kazim, a member of the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword, whom Indy and Elsa encountered in Venice. Malikyan’s skllful portrayal of Kazim proved to be a complex mixture of intensity, religious fevor and a deep-seated calm. And River Phoenix did a marvelous job in portraying the 13 year-old Indiana. He proved to be quite adept in capturing Ford’s mannerisms and speech pattern, while maintaining the persona of a boy in his early teens.

As I had stated earlier, I found “INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE” to be the least original of the four movies in the franchise. Because of this, it is also my least favorite. But despite being my least favorite “INDIANA JONES” film, it is still very entertaining and I never get tired of watching it, thanks to a solid story penned by Jeffrey Boam and Tom Stoppard, first-rate direction by Steven Spielberg and an outstanding cast led by Harrison Ford and Sean Connery.

A Problem With “MAD MEN” Finale

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A PROBLEM WITH THE “MAD MEN” SERIES FINALE

I had a problem with the “MAD MEN” series finale, (7.14) “Person to Person”. Ironically, it had a lot to do with the characters of Don Draper and his first ex-wife, Betty Francis. And this problem first manifested in the series’ penultimate episode, (7.13) “The Milk and Honey Route”.

Betty Francis’ sudden development an advanced case of cancer did not work for me. It seemed to come out of no where. I never understood why Weiner had saddled her with such a quickie death . . . yet, at the same time, allowed Roger Sterling to survive the end of the series. Yes . . . I am speaking of the same Roger Sterling who had suffered two massive heart attacks in the Season One episode, (1.10) “Long Weekend”. His heart problem never became a major issue again, despite his continuing drinking, whoring and occasional forays into drug use. I find that rather odd.

Then again, this is the same Matthew Weiner who had told television journalists that Betty’s main reason for divorcing Don in the Season Three finale, (3.13) “Shut the Door. Have a Seat”, had to do with class bigotry. I never understood his comment. Betty had been aware of Don’s working-class origins throughout their marriage. She made that clear in (3.11) “The Gypsy and the Hobo”. When Roger had expressed his suspicions about Don’s class origins in (1.07) “Red in the Face”, Betty seemed more interested in the idea of learning more about Don than concern over the possibility that he might be working-class. She certainly seemed satisfied by Don’s revelation to her and their kids about his past on a poor farm, during a picnic in Season Two’s (2.07) “The Gold Violin”. She seemed thrilled over the idea that she was learning more about him. So . . . Weiner’s claim that class bigotry was one of the major reasons behind Betty’s decision to get a divorce never worked for me.

Between these comments about the Draper divorce and his decision to saddle Betty with an advanced stage of cancer makes me wonder if Weiner ever liked her in the first place. Is it possible that he saw Betty as a reminder of any mother issues he might possess? Some fans have claimed that Betty’s cancer finally gave her a chance to develop as a character. This is another argument I find difficult to accept. From the moment Betty had learned about Don’s affair with Bobbie Barrett in “The Gold Violin”, and kicked him out of the house in (2.08) “A Night to Remember”, I believe her character had been developing. Yes, she had setbacks. After all, she was supposed to be human. Did the audience and critics really expect instant character growth from Betty? I certainly did not. And it was easy to see that she been slowly developing as a character over the years.

If we are truly supposed to believe that Don finally achieved character growth during his “Kumbaya” moment in “Person to Person”, then one could easily say that his development seemed . . . “instant”. I mean it came out of no where. The speed in which Don allegedly achieved final character development left me shaking my head in disbelief. I could have bought it if Weiner had allowed Don’s character to develop with the same pace as Betty’s – slow and over a long period of time, with the occasional setbacks. Instead, audiences were treated to a “Kumbaya” moment for Don at a California yogi retreat, followed by the famous 1971 Coca-Cola commercial.

Exactly what was Weiner trying to say with that last shot of Don? That the latter had created the commercial? Or was someone else responsible? Why leave the show on an ambiguous note for Don? Weiner could have ended Don’s personal story on a more final note . . . and still hint that he had ended one stage in his life and was about to embark upon another. Or . . . he could have killed Don off. I would have been happy with that scenario.

Do not get me wrong. I liked “MAD MEN” very much. After all, I had stuck with it for seven seasons. But there have been times over the years when I found myself wondering if this series may have been a little overrated. I certainly felt that way when I watched the series’ finale.

“ONCE UPON A TIME”: Tolerating Ambiguity

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“ONCE UPON A TIME”: TOLERATING AMBIGUITY

A good number of the “ONCE UPON A TIME” fandom seemed to be divided over what was revealed in the series’ latest episode called (4.16) “Best Laid Plans”. This division seems to be especially apparent in the episode’s flashbacks and the moral implications hinted from those sequences.

Since the second half of the series’ Season Four began, there have been rumors and hints on the Internet that two of the series’ leads – Snow White aka Mary-Margaret Blanchard and Prince Charming aka David Nolan – may have done something questionable or even terrible in their past in the Enchanted Forest. The first hint appeared in the episode,(4.12) “Darkness on the Edge of Town”, when the couple had protested against allowing villainesses Ursula the Sea Witch and Cruella DeVille to enter their Maine community, Storyrbooke. Later in the episode, both Snow and Charming warned the villainous pair not to say a word about their past to anyone, especially their daughter Emma Swan.

The episode, (4.13) “Unforgiven” gave further hints of the royal pair’s ominous deed. The Storybrooke sequences featured Snow and Charming’s failed efforts to prevent Ursula and Cruella (with Rumpelstiltskin’s help) from resurrecting their former comrade, Maleficent. The latter had been trapped in dragon form by Regina Mills aka the Evil Queen in a cavern underneath Storybrooke during those 28 years of the first curse, until Emma killed her in the Season One episode, (1.22) “A Land Without Magic”. But the flashbacks for “Unforgiven” revealed that the Charmings had briefly formed an alliance with Maleficent, Ursula and Cruella to find a way to prevent Regina from casting the first curse. The alliance fell apart after Maleficent killed a pair of guards who blocked their way to a magical tree that could give them advice. Snow and Charming eventually learned – ironically from Maleficent – that the former was pregnant with Emma. They also learned that their unborn child would not only have the potential for good, but also for great evil. To anyone with common sense, this would be an apt description of any sentient being. Yet, the idea of their future child – who became dubbed as “the Savior” – possessing a potential for evil frightened the Charmings . . . especially Snow White.

So, what actually happened between the Charmings and the “Queens of Darkness” in the Enchanted Forest? “Best Laid Plans” provided the answer. The episode revealed that the royal couple had stopped to help a roadside peddler, who warned them that Maleficent had torched a village after becoming a dragon and laying an egg. He also advised them to seek advice from a “man in a cottage”. The latter turned out to be the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the same elderly man who had directed Queen Ingrid aka the Snow Queen to our world and whom Rumpelstiltskin (with Hook’s reluctant help) had entrapped inside the Sorcerer’s Hat. It was the Apprentice who told the Charmings that their child would grow up with the potential for both good and evil . . . like everyone else. He also added that if they wanted to ensure Emma would remain good, they would have to find another sentient being to serve as a vessel to absorb their unborn child’s potential for evil. In the end, the Charmings kidnapped Maleficent’s egg, which carried an unborn child to use as a vessel for Emma’s inner evil. And the Apprentice, who cast a spell that sent Emma’s inner evil into Maleficent’s unborn child, took the royal pair by surprise by declaring that such evil should not reside in the Enchanted Forest. He sent Maleficent’s child to “the Land Without Magic”, sucking Ursula and Cruella into the portal, as well.

The reaction to the Charmings’ actions in the Enchanted Forest and their subsequent lies in present-day Storybrooke proved to be very emotional and mixed within the “ONCE UPON A TIME” fandom. Many fans accepted what the Charmings did and recognized what they had done was wrong. However, other fan reactions to the Charmings’ actions and “Best Laid Plans” has been . . . well, interesting. Some fans have accused show runners Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis of retconning Snow White and Charming’s characterizations . . . and bad writing altogether. Others have made excuses for the Charmings, claiming they could understand the couple’s need to save Emma from a life of evil. Others have used the peddler, who turned out to be the Author that many have been seeking, as an excuse for the Charmings’ terrible act. The episode revealed that instead of recording the going-ons in the Enchanted Forest, the peddler had been occasionally manipulating the actions of the inhabitants to “make a better story”. And since the episode revealed that the peddler/Author had manipulated the Apprentice into sending Maleficent’s unborn child to “the Land Without Magic”, he must have manipulated the Charmings into kidnapping the child in the first place. Ironically, the charges of bad writing and excuses reminded me of the reactions to Snow’s murder of Cora Mills aka the Queen of Hearts in Season Two’s (2.16) “The Miller’s Daughter”. For some reason, a certain portion of the series’ fandom find it difficult to accept any signs of moral ambiguity from either Snow White, Prince Charming or their daughter, Emma Swan. And there are those fans who have raked the Charmings over hot coals for their deed. I get the feeling these particular fans are angry at the couple (or at Horowitz and Kitsis) for shattering their ideal image of innate goodness.

Personally, I had sighed with relief over the revelation of the Charmings’ past misdeed. No one was more happier than me when Snow and David proved how low they could sink. Some might view my comment as crowing over the couple’s downfall. Trust me, I am not. I am happy that Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis has finally resumed portraying the couple’s moral ambiguity after . . . how many seasons? I believe the last time audiences really saw any signs of questionable morality from either Snow or David was in Season Two’s (2.16) “The Miller’s Daughter”, when Snow murdered Cora Mills aka the Queen of Hearts by cursing the latter’s heart and emotionally manipulating Regina into placing that heart back into Cora’s body. Many fans – to this day – have used Cora’s own moral compass and goal to become the new “Dark One” as an excuse for her murder. These same fans continue to claim that Snow’s intent was to save Storybrooke from Cora’s machinations. But Snow White’s declared intent to murder Cora in revenge for her mother’s death in (2.15) “The Queen Is Dead” makes it clear that Snow White’s only intent was to exact revenge.

There have been other signs throughout the series of Snow’s moral ambiguity. Flashbacks revealed in episodes that she was a kind, yet spoiled and slightly bratty child. I have always wondered about her attempts to redeemed Regina on her own terms, instead of allowing the latter to make the choice to seek redemption, herself. Was this some effort on Snow White’s part to regain the affection of the young woman who first saved her when they met? Or to be the “loving” stepmother and mother substitute she had assumed Regina was before King Leopold’s death? Who knows. I also recalled Snow White’s attempt to murder Regina in the flashbacks featured in Season One’s (1.16) “Heart of Darkness”. Many fans had attributed Snow’s murderous intent to the potion given to her by Rumpelstiltskin, which stripped away her memories of Charming. Those fans seemed to forget that the potion merely erased her memories of Charming. It did not make her murderous. I suspect that the stress of being a fugitive, along with anger and resentment over Regina’s part in Leopold’s death had finally got the best of Snow and she decided to resolve her situation with an act of murder. Thankfully, Charming managed to stop her.

And for quite some time, I have brought up Snow’s action against Mulan in Season Two’s (2.08) “Into the Darkness”, in which she and Emma were trying to leave the Enchanted Forest and return home to Storybrooke. As many know, Mulan had snatched a magical compass that mother and daughter were planning to use to return home. But Mulan wanted to exchange the compass for Princess Aurora, who had been kidnapped by Cora. Snow and Emma managed to catch up in time, before the former engaged in a tussle with Mulan that led to an implausible victory for her. Angry over Mulan’s theft, Snow demanded to know the reason behind it. Even though Mulan admitted that she stole the compass to save Aurora’s life, Snow gave into her anger and tried to kill the former. Fortunately for Mulan, Aurora (who had been freed by Killian Jones aka Captain Hook) stopped Snow from committing murder. Emma, on the other hand, had done nothing to stop her mother. Wow. Snow managed to commit two murder attempts before finally achieving one, when she arranged Cora’s death. Now, her body count is a far, far cry from the likes of Rumpelstiltskin, Regina, Cora, Zelena and other villains. But for someone with a reputation for innate goodness, her penchant for murder (whether successful or not) is at least worth contemplating.

As for David, one of his major character flaws has always been his penchant for judging others with extreme prejudice. Not only has this trait been apparent in his attitude toward Regina – even when she finally managed to achieve some form of full redemption – but also toward others whom he would view as different. This is a trait that Snow White also shares. How else could someone explain the couple’s willingness to use Maleficent’s child as a vessel for Emma’s inner evil? As far as they were concerned, the baby was nothing more than a replica of her mother – a personification of evil. Transferring Emma’s inner evil to her would cause no harm . . . or so they would believe. David was also willing to destroy the book’s page that contained the entrapped Author – an act that could have killed the latter and robbed anyone else of a future “happy ending”. He wanted to destroy that page to hide his and Snow’s theft of Maleficent’s child from everyone . . . especially Emma. His willingness to destroy the page struck me as a stark example of his own personal cowardice that has manifested itself, time and again.

In the Season Two episode, (2.02) “We Are Both”, he told the citizens of Storybrooke that the cursed David Nolan who was too cowardly to be truthful about his adulterous affair with the cursed Mary Margaret Blanchard; and the heroic Prince Charming were one and the same. In Season Three’s (3.14) “The Tower”, he resorted to hiding from others for a few nips of booze in order to hide from his guilt over Emma’s upbringing away from the family and a fear that he might prove to be an ineffective father to his son, Neal, with whom Snow was pregnant at the time. In “Unforgiven”, Snow woke up in the middle of the night following a nightmare about Maleficent, and found David drinking on the staircase to hide his worries over Ursula and Cruella’s arrival in Storybrooke. I am beginning to suspect that he might be a secret lush. Oh dear. And most addicts, if not all, tend to resort to this behavior because they are afraid to face the complete truth about themselves – especially their less than admirable traits. Charming has always struck me as the type willing to face external dangers like evil magic practitioners, dragons, a dangerous water temptress and his malevolent adopted father. Facing his flaws, personal mistakes and demons has always been a problem for him.

Why is it so difficult for some fans to view the Charming family – Snow White, David, Emma and Henry – as morally ambiguous? I never understood this attitude. “ONCE UPON A TIME” is not a television series solely for children. If it was, ABC/Disney would have aired the show on Saturday mornings, instead of during the usual prime time hours. This is the same series in which other heroes and villains have been portrayed in an ambiguous light. Why should the Charmings be exempt from such ambiguity? Because they are among the show’s main protagonists? Some would point out that Emma is a morally ambiguous character, due to her past as a thief and ex-convict. But Emma has committed some questionable acts since the series began – destruction of property, breaking and entering, accessory to her mother’s attempt to kill Mulan in “Into the Deep”, changing the timeline and lying to Henry. In fact, she is still driving the same yellow Volkswagen that she and Neal Cassidy (Baefire) had stolen when they first met. However, many fans tend to brush aside these acts – including the stolen Volkswagen. With the exception of her lies to Henry, which they saw as a threat to the Charming family’s reunion, many fans were willing to brush aside Emma’s questionable acts as long as she was not guilty of murder. Personally, I find this viewpoint rather hypocritical and an example of certain fans’ insistence upon viewing protagonists like the Charmings as morally ideal.

I personally do not care for morally ideal characters. I find them rather boring and unrealistic. I remember reading in a few Agatha Christie novels in which the main character – usually Miss Jane Marple – tend to express the view that just about anyone is capable of murder, given a specific situation. I agree with this assessment. I sometimes feel that human beings like to regard themselves as better than we really are. Perhaps this is why they love the idea of fictional characters – especially those dubbed “the protagonist” or “hero/heroine” – as being morally ideal. Mind you, this is merely an opinion of mine. I tend to find morally ambiguous characters more interesting. Such characters are very entertaining and really do make a story bridle with energy. Characters of one-dimensional morality do not. Even one-dimensional villains. Both Regina and Rumpelstiltskin had struck me as a pair of uninteresting villains in Season One, until episodes like (1.08) “Desperate Souls” and (1.18) “The Stable Boy” revealed just how ambiguous and interesting they truly were.

After Season Two, both Snow White and Charming seemed in danger of becoming a pair of rather dull characters. Between (2.17) “Welcome to Storybrooke” (in which Snow tried to me avert the emotional impact of Cora’s death) and“Darkness on the Edge of Town”, they were not that interesting to me. Well . . . there was the (4.11) “Shattered Sight”episode, in which Queen Ingrid of Arendelle aka the Snow Queen’s spell in which the couple exposed their . . . um, inner resentments and anger toward each other. But for me, that was not the same as deliberately indulging in or utilizing one’s unpleasant traits. After all, they and other Storybrooke’s citizens were under a spell. However, this story arc featuring Maleficent’s stolen child is an entirely different matter. Yes, Snow and Charming’s crime happened in the past. But they were not under a spell.

But there is one potential problem. Earlier, I had revealed that in “Best Laid Plans”, audiences learned the true identity of “the Author” – a peddler who had been commissioned by the Sorcerer and his apprentice to record the happenings in the Enchanted Forest and other “fictional” realms. After the Apprentice had sent Maleficent’s child to “the Land Without Magic”, he confronted the Author and accused the latter of manipulating him into banishing the unborn (or unhatched) child to our world. He also accused the Author of manipulating past events in the “fictional” realms. Certain fans jumped on this narrative turn-of-events and claimed that the Author had manipulated Snow and Charming into stealing Maleficent’s child. Yes, it is possible that the royal pair had been manipulated by the Author. Then again, the Apprentice never accused the Author of that particular act. So, the audience will never learn the truth, until Horowitz and Kitsis decide to reveal it. If they reveal that the Charmings’ act of kidnapping had been manipulated by the Author, then I will be sadly disappointed.

But you know what? Even if the show runners decide to include that Snow and Charming had been manipulated into kidnapping Maleficent’s child, the royal pair still managed to commit some morally questionable acts since the Apprentice had entrapped the Author in that book. And because both of them, along with other characters in “ONCE UPON A TIME”, have shown they are capable of both decent and very questionable acts, I can never regard them as innately good. Frankly, I see that as a good thing. Because in my eyes, there is nothing more boring or damaging to a good story than a morally one-dimensional character.

“THE INFORMANT!” (2009) Review

“THE INFORMANT!” (2009) Review

As a rule, I am not particularly fond of whistleblower films. I find them rather boring and unoriginal. Then I saw Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 movie, “THE INFORMANT!” and concluded there might be one whistleblower film that I do like.

Based on true events and the 2000 non-fiction book, ”The Informant”, by journalist Kurt Eichenwald, the movie is about Mark Whitacre, a rising star at Decatur, Illinois based Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) in the early 1990s who wound up blowing the whistle on the company’s price-fixing tactics, only after his wife forced him to. Soderbergh cast Matt Damon as Whitacre and Scott Bakula as FBI Special Agent Brian Shephard, the man to whom he ratted out ADM.

The movie began in 1992 when the FBI was brought in to investigate a possible case of corporate espionage against ADM. The espionage case later was found to be groundless, but during their investigation, Mark Whitacre, under pressure from his wife, told an FBI agent named Brian Shephard that he and other ADM executives were involved in a multinational conspiracy to control the price of lysine. So far, this plot struck me as no different than any other whistleblower movie. But what made ”THE INFORMANT!” unique to me was the character of said whistleblower – Mark Whitacre. The movie’s first half portrayed him as an eccentric man and enthusiastic executive who seemed reluctant to expose his superiors at ADM. But he eventually dedicated himself into assisting the FBI into spending years in gathering evidence by clandestinely taping the company’s activity in business meetings at various locations around the globe such as Tokyo, Paris, Mexico City, and Hong Kong, eventually collecting enough evidence of collaboration and conspiracy to warrant a raid. Following the raid, it all went downhill for Whitacre. The stress of being the FBI’s mole for three years led him to react to the media in a bizarre manner. More importantly, the FBI and the public discovered that Whitacre had embezzled millions of dollars from ADM.

When I first saw the billboards for ”THE INFORMANT!”, I thought it would be some kind of espionage film like the Jack Ryan novels or something like 1974’s ”THE CONVERSATION”. I eventually learn that the movie might have more to do with industrial espionage . . . and the fact that it was another whistleblower film. Why I did not bother to skip this film upon hearing this, I do not know. Perhaps I was willing to give it a chance due to the fact that Soderbergh and Damon (who did the three ”OCEAN’S ELEVEN” movies) were working together, again. And you know what? I am so glad that I gave it a chance. What started out as an amusing, yet detailed account of Whitacre’s years as a whistleblower for the FBI, ended in a chaotic character study of a very intelligent man who turned out to be a chronic liar and embezzler. As much as I enjoyed the movie’s first half, I really enjoyed the second half that exposed Whitacre’s crimes. The plot – or should I say Whitacre’s character – began to spiral out of control once the whistleblower tried to deflect himself from fraud charges in hilarious ways. By the time the movie ended, I did not know whether to be astounded or amused by how it all fell apart for Whitacre.

”THE INFORMANT!” featured a pretty good solid cast that included Scott Bakula as the long suffering FBI agent Brian Shephard who had recruited Whitacre to act as an informant for his agency . . . and lived to regret it. Joel McHale portrayed his partner, the more outgoing FBI agent Robert Herndon. It was interesting to see comedians like Thomas F.Wilson, the Smothers Brothers – Tom and Dick, Allan Harvey, Patton Oswalt and Scott Adsit all in serious roles. I enjoyed Tony Hale’s performance as Whitacre’s first attorney, James Epstein. Watching his reaction to the growing chaos that seemed to surround Whitacre was rather funny. And Melanie Lynskey gave a strong performance as Whitacre’s wife, Ginger, who seemed to act as the whistleblower’s conscious and backbone. But who am I kidding? The movie is owned lock, stock and barrel by Matt Damon’s brilliant performance as Mark Whitacre. I cannot even describe how good he was in capturing this complex, deceiving and yet, sympathetic personality. I found it criminal that Damon was not nominated for an Academy Award nomination for his performance.

Do I have any quibbles about ”THE INFORMANT!”? Uh . . . I can only think of one or two complaints right now. I found Soderbergh’s cinematography rather uninspiring. Yep . . . that is what I had said. The film’s director had also acted as the photographer. And I found it dull and slightly metallic at times. If Soderbergh honestly considers himself a genuine cinematographer . . . well, I would suggest that he stick to directing and producing. And I must admit that right before the FBI had decided to arrest some of ADM’s executives, the pacing became so slow that it nearly dragged the film. Aside from those complaints, I really enjoyed this movie. But I must warn you . . . if you are expecting it to be another ”THE INSIDER” or ”DEFENSE OF THE REALM”, you are going to be sadly disappointed. ”THE INFORMANT!” struck me as possessing an unusual and highly original story for it to be viewed as another whistleblower film.

“The Worship of Sally Draper”

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“THE WORSHIP OF SALLY DRAPER”

The following words regarding a certain character on the AMC series, “MAD MEN” is bound to result in me receiving a good deal of hostile responses … or none at all. I am so sick to death of fans putting Sally Draper on a pedestal.

I am sick of it. Ever since Season Three, when show creator Matthew Weiner made her a more prominent characters, fans have been putting a character that aged from nine to sixteen on a pedestal. Why, I have no idea . To me, there is nothing special about Sally. She has always struck me as a typical kid who will probably grow up with her own set of virtues and bullshit . . . just like her parents, her siblings, and nearly every other character on this show.

After the last episode, (7.10) “The Forecast” aired, I managed to encounter two articles that waxed lyrical over Sally. In one of them, “MAD MEN: Viva la Sally Draper”, author Julianne Escobedo Shepherd claimed that Sally will be forced to spend the rest of her life overcoming her parents’ personalities. Now, I realize that neither Don Draper aka Dick Whitman or Betty Draper Francis are perfect. In fact, they are far from perfect . . . like every other character on this damn show. Including one Sally Draper. Unfortunately, this is something that many fans of the show, including Ms. Shepherd, always fail to realize.

Watching Sally in “The Forecast” made me realize how ridiculous are those claims that Sally is more mature than her parents. Do not make me laugh. I saw that Sally was unable or unwilling to cast any blame on her old friend, Glen Bishop, after she witnessed his reunion with Betty. Ten years earlier, Glen commenced upon an infatuation for Sally’s mother that apparently has yet to abate. But instead of commenting on Glen’s obvious attempt to flirt with Betty, Sally went into a tailspin over Betty’s friendly response to Glen. Later in the episode, Sally had dinner with Don and her friends at a restaurant, in which one of her friends began flirting with Don. Who responded with a good deal of friendliness without making a scene. In the end, it was Sally who made a scene by blaming Don for the exchange and ignoring her friend’s attempt at flirtation. The fact that Sally was unwilling to blame her friends for what happened between them and her parents, only tell me that not only is she still immature, but also a world-class scapegoater.

In The Washington Post article called “MAD MEN: Is Sally Draper Our Last Hope For Change?”, author Soraya Nadia McDonald speculates on whether the character will become some symbol of change on the show. Duh! Sally is the youngest major character on this damn show. By 2015, she will be at least 61 years old. Of course she is the future for a show in which the setting ends in 1970. However, this also means that whatever Sally manages to achieve with her life, she will still have to deal with her frustrations, disappointments and especially her own personal flaws. These personal flaws may or may not affect others. They will certainly affect her. And those flaws will be with Sally until the day she dies or when “MAD MEN” goes off the air.

I have notice in this latest article on how McDonald went out of her way to insult both Don and Betty . . . and at the same time, put Sally on a pedestal. I swear . . . both the media and the fans seemed to regard Sally in the same manner in which Mildred Pierce regarded her daughter Veda. Through rose colored glasses. These same fans have a penchant for ignoring Sally’s penchant for scapegoating. I first became aware of this problem back in Season Four, when she solely blamed Betty for the end of the Drapers’ marriage. Sally possesses other flaws – namely her penchant for bullying – especially her younger brother Bobby; her “sass”, which makes her a world-class needler in my eyes; and her slightly cruel sense of humor. Sally reminds me of certain classmates from my younger years in elementary and high school, whom I heartily disliked or I had regarded with a good deal of wariness. But if there is one person whom Sally reminds me of . . . it is her paternal grandfather, Archie Whitman.

This is the character who is supposed to be the series’ “Great White Female Hope”? Sally Draper? A character, whose flaws are constantly ignored by the “MAD MEN” fandom? There are some who are talking about a spin-off featuring Sally as an adult. Honestly? That is one show I will never watch. How can I drum up the interest to watch a series about a character I have never harbored a high opinion of in the first place? What I am trying to say is that in the end, I am getting sick and tired of the “Glorification of Sally Draper”. The sooner “MAD MEN” is off the air, the less chance I have of encountering this phenomenon. God, I hope so.

“JANE EYRE” (1943) Review

“JANE EYRE” (1943) Review

Many fans of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, “Jane Eyre”, are aware that numerous (probably over twenty) television and movie adaptations of it had been made over the past several decades. While perusing the Internet, I was surprised to discover that the opinion of the 1943 adaption seemed to be extremely divided. Fans either regard it as the best adaptation or the worst. There seemed to be no middle ground.

As many know, “JANE EYRE” told the story of young 19th century English orphan who is forced to live at the Yorkshire estate of her widowed aunt-by-marriage, Aunt Reed. After a recent altercation between niece and aunt, the latter sends Jane Eyre to be educated at an all-girls school operated by a tyrannical and religious zealot named Mr. Lowood. Jane spends eight years at the school as a student and two years as a teacher. She eventually leaves Lowood School after she is hired as a governess for Adèle Varens, the French-born ward of a mysterious landowner named Mr. Edward Rochester. Not long after her arrival at Thornfield Hall, the Rochester estate, Jane meets her enigmatic employer. It does not take long before Jane and Rochester’s relationship evolve from employee/employer to friends, before it eventually becomes romantic. However, a possible romantic rival for Jane and a secret in Thornfield’s attic prove to be major obstacles in the road to romance for the young governess and her employer.

So . . . how does “JANE EYRE” hold up after 71 to 72 years? Actually, I believe it holds up pretty well. I thought director Robert Stevenson and the screenplay he co-wrote with John Houseman, Aldous Huxley, and Henry Koster did a solid job in translating Brontë’s novel to the screen. Many critics and movie fans have noted that this adaptation seemed to have convey the novel’s Gothic atmosphere a lot stronger than other versions. I supposed one has cinematographer George Barnes, production designer William L. Pereira and set decorator Thomas Little to thank. However, I recently learned it was Orson Welles (who not only served as leading man, but also an uncredited producer) who had convinced Stevenson and his fellow co-producers William Goetz and Kenneth Macgowan to inject more Gothic visuals into the movie. I could not say that René Hubert’s costume designs contributed to the movie’s Gothic atmosphere. But I was impressed by how Hubert’s costumes reflected the movie’s early 1840s setting, as shown in the images below:

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I certainly had no problems with how the movie handled Jane’s story through most of the film. From the opening scene in which the leading character found herself harassed by the Reed film to her disrupted wedding to Edward Rochester. I usually find it difficult to endure the Lowood School scenes in other adaptations of Brontë’s novels. But I cannot say the same about this adaptation. I really had no problem with it. It could be that I was so fascinated by the performances of Peggy Ann Garner, Elizabeth Taylor and Henry Daniell that I completely forgot that I was watching one of my least favorite sequences in the story. And of course, the best part of“JANE EYRE” remained the growing friendship and romance between the titled character and Rochester. This was especially apparent in two sequences – Rochester’s courtship of Blanche Ingram during his house party and Jane’s confession of her love for him.

Although I was impressed by how Stevenson and the film’s other screenwriters handled Brontë’s tale up to Jane and Rochester’s disastrous wedding ceremony, I could not say the same about the rest of the film. In fact, it suffered from the same narrative problem that plagued several other adaptations – a weak finale. First of all, this is the only adaptation in which Jane never meets the Rivers siblings – St. John, Diana and Mary. She does meet a Doctor Rivers, who first treated Jane when she was a Lowood student. Instead of seeking refuge with the trio, Jane returns to Gateshead Hall, the home of her dying Aunt Reed. Following her aunt’s death, Jane reunites with Rochester. That is it. And I hate to say this, but the entire sequence – between Jane’s departure from Thornfield Hall to her return – seemed very rushed and unsatisfying.

I also have another major problem with the movie – its Gothic elements. There were times when these elements served the mysterious aspects of the movie very well. However, a good deal of these “Gothic touches” struck me as heavy handed . . . to the point that they ended up annoying me. This was apparent in Jane’s first meeting with Rochester, with so much fog swirling around the pair that at times they seemed almost hidden. The worst aspect of these “Gothic touches” occurred in the scene in which Jane and Rochester confessed their love for one another. The moment the pair sealed their engagement with a kiss, a bolt of lightning came out of the sky and struck a nearby log. I mean . . . come on! Really?

A good number of critics and movie fans did not seem particularly impressed by Joan Fontaine’s portrayal of Jane Eyre. I never understood the complaints. I thought she did an excellent job. More importantly, her portrayal of the passionate, yet introverted Jane seemed spot on. What were these critics expecting? An over-the-top performance by Fontaine? Jane Eyre is not an overtly emotional character – at least as an adult. However, I am happy to note that Fontaine certainly had a strong screen chemistry with her leading man, Orson Welles. Many have stated that Welles pretty much dominated the movie. To me, that is like saying every actor who has portrayed Edward Rochester overshadowed the actresses who have portrayed Jane. Personally, I thought Welles’ enigmatic and quick-witted portrayal of Rochester complimented Fontaine’s more introspective performance rather well. I guess these fans and critics did not want balance . . . just two very theatrical performances.

The other performances in the movie struck me as first-rate. Agnes Moorehead, who was part of Welles’ Mercury Theater company before her arrival in Hollywood, portrayed Jane’s haughty Aunt Reed. And I must say that she did an excellent job in portraying the character with a not-too-shabby English accent. Henry Daniell was equally impressive as the tyrannical head of Jane’s school, Mr. Lowood. But I was really impressed by Margaret O’Brien, who did a remarkable job as Rochester’s French ward, Adèle Varens. I would not know an authentic French accent, if I was stuck in the middle of Paris. But I must say that O’Brien’s accent was just as good as the other young actresses who portrayed Adèle. And she gave such a charming performance . . . at the age of six.

But O’Brien was not the only child star who gave an excellent performance. Peggy Ann Garner was equally impressive as the young Jane Eyre, who had no qualms about butting heads with the haughty Reed family. Also in the film was a young Elizabeth Taylor, who gave a mesmerizing performance as Jane’s doomed young friend, Helen Burns. I was surprised to discover that Hillary Brooke, who portrayed Blanche Ingram, was an American actress. I thought she was very convincing as the charmingly bitchy and very English Blanche. The movie also featured solid performances from Sara Allgood, John Sutton, Edith Barrett and Barbara Everest.

So . . . do I feel that “JANE EYRE” is the best or worst adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s novel? Honestly? I would say neither. Yes, there were times I could barely deal with the movie’s over-the-top Gothic atmosphere. And yes, I found the last quarter of the film both weak and rushed. But overall, I would say that it is a pretty good film. And I believe that it still holds up rather well after 71 to 72 years.

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